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Saturday, February 18th 2006

A Jury of our Peers?

Television paints the facts and looks for drama, no doubt. Still, if this jury in Missouri ever sat in judgment of me….

Asked by the NBC 48 Hours anchor about the possibility, as presented by the defense, that the State’s star witness (who also was one of the perpetrators) had incorporated false memories into his testimony, one juror provided this gem:

“Not in my mind. Just common sense. What’s the reason he would make something up like that?”

That is brilliant. Yes, it is just common sense.

I don’t care that they found the kid guilty of murder, and I wouldn’t care if they understood the scientific testimony and had reasonably dismissed it. Here however at least one juror has completely misunderstood false memory syndrome which, despite being railed against by sexual abuse victim advocates, is pretty generally accepted by the scientific community.

You can see research by one of its primary advocates, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, here and here. Here is New Scientist summarizing how false and true memories might one day be distinguished out using brain image methods.

The jury system is the keystone around which justice is assured in this country. It is taboo to question its place. However, in cases like this, medical malpractice matters, and any case involving key scientific evidence which is not in the social conscious, there really needs to be a critical reasoning test administered to jurors before they’re empaneled. Anyone who is dumb enough not to be able to get out of jury duty shouldn’t be allowed to serve in these cases.